Positive news reporting is often perceived as serving only as light relief or as a trivial distraction from the realities of the world. But as positive psychology researcher Jodie Jackson explains, there is a growing body of research emerging to suggest that these perceptions are unfounded
The value and importance of ‘positive news’ is questioned by many. It’s stunted by the perception that positive news stories are inconsequential and trivial, with little societal relevance, often sidelined to the “and finally” at the end of the news. Positive news often has a stigma attached to those that advocate for it, with the assumption that it is spoken about by those who are naïve, uninformed or simply blind optimists.
However, in recent years academic research in the field of both psychology and sociology has found many reasons to increase the amount of positive news published, linking it to higher levels of wellbeing and positive social behaviour. It has also been shown to re-engage and inform people about current affairs who have previously opted out of the news, citing it to be “too depressing”. So why has positive news been sidelined and misunderstood for so long? The shadow of myth attached to positive news often dwarfs its truth. The most common myths are tested below:
Myth 1: Positive news creates a false sense of security that the world is okay
Debunked: The purpose of telling positive news is not to reassure everyone that everything is okay, but instead to see what is possible; how individuals and communities are progressing to overcome problems and flourish. The publication of positive news stories provides status and visibility to these tangible examples of success that can be emulated, enabling the reader to feel empowered and aware of their own potential.
“Positive news stories are important to recognise in their own right, not secondary concerns only to be recognised in the absence of problems.”
Myth 2: Positive news is fluffy news of cats being saved from trees
Debunked: Research has shown that in mainstream media, positive news stories tend to be light-hearted, soft stories with a human-interest focus. The problem with focusing on only this type of positive news is that it creates an association between good news and inconsequential news. However, positive news is so much broader than this and includes stories of innovation, initiative, peace building, progress, solutions, achievements and positive aspects of society, which have significant weight to carry a news story.
Myth 3: Positive news leads to passivity
Debunked: Positive news has been shown to increase positive affect, which is the term given to describe the extent to which individuals experience positive emotions such as joy, interest, happiness and hope, which increase wellbeing. In addition, research has shown that motivation to take positive action significantly increases with higher levels of positive affect, such as donating to charity, participating in the community and becoming more environmentally friendly.
Myth 4: Positive news is the opposite of negative news
Debunked: Positive and negative news do not exist at polar ends of a spectrum, as their names would suggest. They operate on a continuum and can even be coexistent. This is partly due to the subjectivity of what is considered positive but also due to the fact that problems and solutions are two halves of the same story. Problem-focused journalism and solution-focused journalism do not need to be pitted against each other to decide which one is most important, but instead recognise both in their own right as serving an important informative function in the press.
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Myth 5: Positive news is not as important as negative news
Debunked: Positive news is hugely important to create better balance in the media. Research has shown this imbalanced negativity bias can cause detrimental effects to both the individual and society, including, but not limited to, anxiety, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, lack of civic engagement, misperception of risk, desensitisation, and in some cases this negativity bias can lead to complete avoidance of the news. We propose that the excess of negativity is not tackled by reducing the amount of negative news stories but instead by increasing the number of positive news stories told.
Myth 6: Positive news is inappropriate to talk about when there are so many terrible things happening in the world
Debunked: Positive news stories are important to recognise in their own right, not secondary concerns only to be recognised in the absence of problems. We need to notice the world’s achievements alongside its failings in order to report on and understand the world more accurately. In this case, the media institution and its journalists should report on strength as it does weakness, success as it does failure, human excellence as it does human corruption and scandal, solutions as it does problems, and growth as it does recession.
The importance of positive news is no longer a myth; it is instead a well-informed conclusion drawn from the fields of science, academia and good old-fashioned opinion polls. With this in mind, there is hope that positive news will become a stable part of news reporting, rather than a niche part of journalism.